The Black Mass of Brother Springer

ISBN: 1930997353
ISBN 13: 9781930997356
By: Charles Willeford James Sallis

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Reader's Thoughts


Humorous tale of a psychopath who stumbles upon religion as a means to enrich himself in many ways.

Douglas Castagna

First off, this tells a story of how easy it used to be to just walk away from your life, and start a new one. Such as the case with Sam Springer who becomes Deuteronomy Springer, a white reverend with an all black flock. He has the worst intentions, and lives up to them in an unapologetic tale of greed and lust and violence. Classic Willeford.


A lot of Willeford fans like this one but I thought it was crap. Once you get past the short punch line (phony white minister takes over a black church and leads them) there's nothing much going on here. No big payoff, no character development to speak of. I'm surprised Willeford wanted this one published. He's a great writer but this wasn't funny or involving. It was the equivalent to sitting through a bad movie just waiting for it to end so you could say you saw it all the way through. I think I sold my copy.


Willeford creates a vivid story in a few amount of words. This is more of a novella, or a long short story, than a book. But it's very engaging and engrossing. It's only 192 pages, but the characters are interesting, and the story keeps you on your toes. The main character, known throughout most of the book, is the Right Reverend Deuteronomy Springer, and he essentially has no redeeming qualities about him. The only reason I give this book 4 stars is that it's a but dated, as it was published in 1958, and you can tell it was written very much in the moment. I enjoyed seeing things like the cheapest meal at a 5-star restaurant costing $4.35, but it was slightly distracting. That doesn't really make sense, because I wouldn't criticize a Laura Ingalls Wilder book for saying that 5 cents was a lot of money to spend on a slate, but there was still something weird about it that I can't quite put my finger on. All in all, it's an interesting book, and I would definitely recommend it for fun reading, especially like on the beach.


Not everyone can be knocked out of the park. This is the one Willeford book (of the ones published during his lifetime) that left me completely ennervated. Nowhere near the same league as The Pickup or Burnt-Orange Heresy, but those are tough highwater marks to have to always shoot for. Maybe if I read it in the original pulp publication the time machine element would help, but otherwise I will not be going back to it.

Scott Tobias

I can't get enough of Charles Willeford. His books defy genre, defy expectation, and go places such books are not supposed to go. It would be limiting to call him a crime novelist or pulp novelist, but what else to call him? In any case, this wild, wooly little book follows a third-rate white author who comes upon an opportunity to be a preacher in an all-black church in Civil Rights Era Florida. He's not a believer by any means, but he figures that he can collect a good salary, cough up two sermons every Sunday, and spend the rest of the time working on his second book. When he gets there, however, he enters into flimflammery of another kind, using a Rosa Parks-like incident to unite other parishes in a bus boycott, all while funneling donations to the cause into an account in Atlanta. He also looks to steal a worshiper's hot-to-trot wife while he's at it. This whole crazy scenario starts with our hero opening his first sermon by talking about the life of Franz Kafka, and it gets more fevered from there. Good stuff.


It was because of Harry Crews' praising of Willeford that I ever paid attention to the name. Anyone who Crews lists as an influence immediately has my attention and this book was nothing short of what I expected: clean, terse and brutal. Maybe some of the blows that shook readers in the fifties have been softened by time, but it's existential meditations are just as relevant and poignant as ever. I'm a fan. A Willefan? Yes.


Originally published as "The Black Mass of Brother Springer" and with original 1960s cover art that looks eerily like George W. Bush trying to make some girl in a haystack, this is a must read for any Willeford fan.The book itself is a good read and a fun commentary on religion-as-theater that takes place during the beginning of the Civil Rights Era as told be an almost sociopathic ex-accountant who inherits a phony title as a preacher (The Right Reverend Deuteronomy Springer) and an all-black congregation. But what gets it the extra bump from three to four stars for me is a fanboy-like amusement of a secondary character, a charlatan monk, that more closely parallels the author than any of his other fictional characters.

Sam Cramer

Strong stuff!

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